AP: Reid Arguably Not Beyond Reproach

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If at first you don’t succeed…

Back in February, the AP’s John Solomon ran a lengthy piece detailing alleged contacts between Jack Abramoff’s team at Greenberg Traurig and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). As Josh pointed out, although the article concentrated on the fact that Team Abramoff was lobbying Reid on behalf of sweatshop owners in the Northern Marianas, Solomon failed to note that Reid actually voted against the legislation Abramoff was pushing.

Well, Solomon has written a new piece purporting to illustrate still more of Reid’s ethical improprieties. He’s managed to actually make a weaker case than in his last story.

Here’s the central allegation:

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing.

That sounds pretty bad.

Only, there is an exception for gifts from governmental agencies (like the Nevada Athletic Commission) in the Senate ethics rules. So there is nothing untoward about Reid having accepted the free tickets.

But it would still seem pretty bad if Reid had accepted the tickets and then stumped shamelessly for the commission.

Only, he didn’t. As was the case with Abramoff and the Marianas, Reid voted against the peddler’s interest. As Solomon admits in the piece, Reid was advocating “the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada’s agency feared might usurp its authority.” Reid never changed his position. And this was a dramatically uncontroversial piece of legislation largely preoccupied with ensuring the safety of boxers by creating the United States Boxing Administration. It passed the Senate unanimously.

Now, Solomon puts all these facts in his piece. So he’s not covering up a key piece of information like he did last time. He seems to realize that he doesn’t have any real story. So Solomon argues that Reid, out of an abundance of caution, should have paid for the tickets to avoid the appearance of impropriety.To justify this stance, the piece launches into a nuanced dissection of the ethics rules that I will not resurrect here. The upshot is that Reid is guilty of not interpreting the ethics rules in the most restrictive manner possible. Solomon is unsurprisingly able to marshall three (which he describes in the piece as “several”) ethics experts to back him on this. Well, actually I should say two, since one of them only goes so far as to recommend that the rule exempting gifts from governmental agencies should be changed.

Solomon’s foil for Reid’s alleged ethical shortcoming is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who “insisted on paying $1,400 for the tickets he shared with Reid for a 2004 championship fight.” He’s the hero of Solomon’s piece, the one who went the extra distance to make sure there was no appearance of impropriety. That’s commendable, but it’s by no means apparent that it was a step McCain was obligated to take. I for one can’t muster up even a puff of indigation over the fact that a former boxer and boxing judge, former head of the Nevada Gaming Commission, and current Senator from Nevada accepted free tickets to boxing matches in Las Vegas.

Solomon is so dead-set on illustrating bipartisan parity on corruption that he’s blind to the weakness of the arguments he’s making. If this is the best that he can come up with after several months, I have to say that Reid seems remarkably incorruptible.